Google Fi Review: Is It the Best Phone Plan for Travelers?

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Google Fi Review: Is It the Best Phone Plan for Travelers?

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Staying connected while traveling is a necessity these days, whether you need to monitor work or just need data to navigate a new place.

Major cell phone providers each have their own offerings to stay connected abroad, typically costing $10 per day or more. While it's not quite perfect, we think Google offers the best international phone plan for travelers to stay connected

It's called Google Fi, and the service stands far above every carrier for international phone and data service. It's the cheapest, easiest, and most effective international phone plan, period, with coverage in 200-plus countries – almost always at lightning-fast speeds.

Over the years, Google Fi has rolled out new enhancements like beta service for iPhones and a new, unlimited data plan – in addition to the pay-as-you-go international data model. It can easily be the best cell phone plan for travelers, whether you make it your main cell phone carrier or just turn it on and off while traveling.

Here's our review of why Google Fi is the best option.
 

 

How Google Fi Works

It's safe to say that Google Fi isn't quite like other cell phone service providers.

Rather than running its own network of cell phone towers, Google Fi piggybacks on the networks of T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular in the U.S. to keep you connected at home. The result is 5G connectivity across much of the U.S., and a 4G connection elsewhere.

There are just a few pockets where domestic service is weak, including much of Alaska. But even in Hawaii, you can expect a strong 5G signal.
 

google fi coverage map us

 

Google Fi International Coverage

Google Fi also offers coverage in more than 200 countries or territories and counting. Check out the full list of countries, and you'll see that every major destination (and many of the smaller, less-touristed spots) is covered, from Albania to Zambia.

Very few countries don't make the list: Cuba, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria won't have coverage, nor will many small island nations in the South Pacific and many East African countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

Safe to say, you'll likely have coverage no matter where you're heading. And it will almost always be at blazing fast 5G or 4G speeds, which means you can also easily use your phone as a hotspot to connect via laptop when you need it.

One note: Google gets mixed reviews for its actual cellular phone service – especially when abroad. In our experience, Google Fi is best for international data connectivity. If that's your primary concern, you'll probably be thrilled with Google Fi. If you're making a ton of phone calls during your travels, you may want to think twice about switching.

But that's only half the equation. Google Fi is great on your wallet, too.

 

How Much Google Fi Costs

Unlike traditional cell phone carriers that levy big charges for international service, the prices don't change whether you're at home or abroad. 

And Google Fi now offers two plan pricing options:

  • Pay-as-you-go starting at $20 per month plus $10/gigabyte of data for one user (and free after 6GB each month), plus unlimited texting worldwide; unlimited calling in the U.S.; calls worldwide for 20 cents per minute; free Wi-Fi calling worldwide. Data speeds are slower after using 15GB each month. This is the plan many members of the Thrifty Traveler team use & love. 
  • An unlimited plan starting at $70/month for one user, with unlimited texting worldwide; unlimited calling in the U.S.; 22GB of high-speed data per month when traveling internationally (slower speeds after 22GB of data usage); free international calling from the U.S. to 50 countries; calls worldwide for 20 cents per minute; free Wi-Fi calling worldwide; and unlimited data in the U.S., Canada & Mexico.

Here's a look at the monthly cost breakdowns between the two Google Fi plans for one cell phone line. Keep in mind those per-line rates will drop as you add more lines to your plan. And note that “Simply Unlimited” plans don't include international service, period – you'll want to skip that.
 

google fi plan options 

We think these two plan options give Google Fi some unbeatable flexibility to suit travelers' needs. Want high-speed service at home and while traveling without having to think about it? The Unlimited plan is probably right for you. It's roughly the same as what you'd pay with any major carrier – but will keep you connected no matter where you travel without paying a penny more.

Looking for a service just to take with on your travels while keeping your favorite phone and provider at home? The flexible plan could easily make sense, depending on how much you plan to travel abroad.

And there's one unsung benefit that makes it even more compelling.

 

Pause Your Service When You Don't Need It

That's right. You can pause your service when you don't need it – and not pay a dime to do so.

This is one of the most generous policies you'll find among cell phone providers. If you only want Google Fi when traveling, this ability to pause your service in three-month spans is unbeatable.
 

google fi review 

Google allows you to pause your Google Fi service for up to three months at a time – but you can continually go back to extend the pause as needed. Or log back in and resume your service earlier.

Pausing your account is as simple as logging in online or via its smartphone app. It will automatically resume when your three-month pause lapses, but you can choose to re-pause the account.
 

google fi review pause account 

Google doesn't explicitly cap how often you can pause Fi service, though the company does say: “Repeatedly pausing Fi is a violation of our Terms of Service.” So that's something to be aware of if you're planning to use Google Fi sporadically.

 

iPhones Work (But Not Great)

If there's one hangup with Google Fi service, it's this: It's not really designed for iPhones.

Sure, Google has introduced the ability to bring over almost any iPhone to Google Fi service – almost any model running iOS 12 or higher will work. But this functionality has been in beta mode for years, which results in some pretty drastic limitations when running Fi on an iPhone including:

  • iPhones can't switch networks on the Google Fi service, so you'll stay on T-Mobile.
  • Apple devices can't make calls or send texts over Wi-Fi
  • Tethering and Wi-Fi hotspots won't work when traveling abroad
  • iMessage should work just fine, but texting other devices requires some additional setup.

 

apple iphone 

It can work just fine, to be sure. But Google has really designed this service to work best with its own devices.

 

Great Phones … with Amazing Photos

Maybe you're a diehard Apple fan who will be buried with your iPhone. That's OK, you're not alone. But Google's Pixel phones are worth a second look if you ask us. The interface may feel foreign at first, but it's straightforward and easy to use.

But whether you go for the entry-level Pixel 5a for just $299 or splurge for the brand new Pixel 6 Pro for $899, one thing is for sure: You can take some killer photos. While the new iPhone 13 Pro piles on accolades, we still think that for the money, the Pixel takes some of the best photos with little help or editing.

Here's an unaltered shot from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan.
 

tokyo japan 

And another of Muscat, Oman using the Pixel's outstanding “Night Sight” mode.
 

muscat oman 

And here's another from Singapore's famous Gardens by the Bay.
 

singapore 

Why bring another camera when you can slip a Pixel in your pocket? We think these photos are that good – for all but the professionals out there, it should make your camera irrelevant.

You can pick up these phones for fairly cheap, either as part of a monthly installment or paying upfront. At the time of publication, the Pixel 5a is currently just $299 when you activate your Google Fi service within 30 days of purchase – or just $15 per month for the device. Or pick up the Pixel 6 starting at $25 a month or $599.

But hold tight, these phones go on sale many times a year including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

 

A Warning for Digital Nomads & Frequent Travelers

We really think Google Fi is the perfect solution to stay connected for most travelers heading abroad. But it won't be right for absolutely everyone.

In the last few years, Google has started to crack down on Fi subscribers who spend months at a time away from home, suspending service until they return to the U.S. The reason? Google Fi's terms require users to use their service “primarily” in the United States. That means you could quickly run into problems if you're living abroad or spending months traveling internationally.

But for the average traveler who heads abroad just a few weeks a year, Google Fi should be great.
 

Google Fi Review: Our Final Thoughts

Whether you want an everyday phone that keeps you connected abroad or a travel-only phone, we think Google Fi is far and away the best option. While the hiccups with using iPhones still aren't quite smoothed out yet, the price, convenience, and speed of Google Fi easily beats other major carriers' international plans.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

23 Responses

  • Missed last years BF deal by 5 min (BC Google ended promo hours early) opted for BYOD and $200 service credit.

    Used 15 GB of LTE data with Fi data only Sim in a phone for a shared Hotspot for me am DW for 3 weeks in Israel – streamed some Netflix, video chatted with family, and with photos the hardest thing to replace, reall time backup to Google photos. We had signal 98% of time from Eliat to the Golan and around the country.

    We still kept our T-Mobile SIM in our phones and texted as normal but no slow loading of ride share, social ,edia, etc.

  • The network switching between Sprint, t-mobile and US Cellular is only available on Pixel phones. If you have an iPhone you will stay on T-mobile.

  • The other benefit of Fi is free data only Sims. Your phone can be the main phone but you can get extra sim cards for your tablet and your partners phone. All the data is charged to your line with no extra fees. The data only Sim is designed for data and not calls/texts, but you may already have a way to text without your phone, for example I use the Hangouts app, but WhatsApp might work for you.

  • Look at Mint mobile. Far less cost and provides service worldwide. Uses the T-Mobile network. Free calls to Mexico and Canada. Reduced rates in those two countries and reasonable rates in the others.

    • Have T-Mo ONE plan and had Plus plan which provided 2X data speed 3G – a painful bad joke at 256 kbps – But Mint doesn’t offer 4G international. IIRC T-mo does but it $50 /mo and not sure about speeds or data cap. Google Fi fits bill perfectly being able to pause between trips.

  • Hi, I ordered a Pixel 4 thru Google Fi and never received the phone althu they claimed that they have delivered the phone and “Reception A” has signed for it. Well guess what, my name is not “Reception A”! I have reached out to them for a week and they only said “our specialist is investigating the issue and they will reach out to you via email”. No timeframe, no insight into what they have done so far or what they are going to do as next step. Finally today, as I was talking over the phone I received an email saying Google delivered the phone and there is nothing else they can do about it! so I have reached out to my bank to file a dispute to atleast get my money back. They have the worst customer support ever. I would never recommend their service to anyone.

  • Question: At home I have a family plan through Sprint but I’m getting reading to deploy for a year and would like to use Googlefi for my travels. Anyone know if I can suspend my Sprint service until I return, but still use the same phone number for Googlefi service?

  • Google Fi customer service is the worst. I bought the service for my son who is studying abroad for a semester. It worked for 3 days and has been down for a week now. After multiple escalations, dozens of calls and chats with support, it is still down. They are no longer responding. I have to assume that Google Fi does not want my son to be using their service. It’s absolutely horrible.

  • Google FI is a scam. You’d think you were dealing with some shady corner store rather than a $1 trillion dollar company the way they nickle and dime you and hide everything in the fine print. My wife and I are “digital nomads” and we enthusiastically switched to FI from Verizon so that we could make calls within countries we visit. I own a Pixel 2 and she has an iPhone 11 Pro. After one month of being ripped off, I am switching back to Verizon.

    Exhibit A: if you are using an iPhone, you cannot make WiFi calls. WiFi calls are free on Verizon and other carriers. Google Fi charges you $0.20 per minute. After my first month, I was shocked to see $168 in international calling charges. My wife and I live abroad and our clients are in the United States, so we depend on WiFi calls.

    Exhibit B: If you are using any other type of phone and are making calls while connected to WiFi, Google FI charges you $0.20 per minute. They say it’s because you have a weak WiFi signal and they want to give you the best service, but that’s a lie. They never gave me an option to switch between carrier service or WiFi. They just charged me $0.20 for every call I made when I was connected to WiFi.

    Exhibit C: When I called them and explained all of this and how their policies seem like a scam compared to Verizon, they told me that there was nothing they could do.

    Google: The $1 trillion dollar company that steals from their cell phone plan customers.

  • I currently have Google Fi, because I plan to travel internationally. The switch to Google Fi is the worst decision I’ve ever made as a customer. Within two weeks of having Fi while still in the US, I noticed that my microphone does not work for any phone call or Google Hangouts chat. I later found out that Fi was not notifying my phone when I was receiving calls. I experimented with switching the SIM to an old phone without success. I believe, at this time, it’s only possible to speak with customer service via an online messaging service.
    With my experience, I’d say Fi is completely useless as a phone service, but the data is okay.
    I would never recommend it and hope to save you headaches if you’re reading this 🙂

  • I used to think that Google Fi was the ideal service for expats and longer term travelers, but recently I’ve been forced to reconsider my options. While some years ago, there were zero issues living abroad in countries outside of of the US (but still on their list), their terms of service have changed recently, and they’re forcing a reliable customer for many years to find an alternative.

    Recently, I received an email stating that international roaming was a violation of their ToS and they will be shutting off my data.

    I contacted support, and they basically regurgitated their terms, asked me if I was government, and then said we’re sorry, you need to return to the US within the next 30 days to maintain data services.

    I asked if I could pay more and upgrade to the Unlimited plan, and they told me it was not an option. This is ludicrous.

    A service that used to be excellent is now uterly useless.

    In case others need to avoid this pitfall, I had been living in Spain for three months, and I’ve been in colombia since the end of January. I received the email the first week of February.

    Please be wary of using Fi if living abroad for more than a few months.

    • I had the same experience. Horrible customer service. Misleading marketing about what they offer for international data. I have no idea when they snuck this into the terms of service. Wish I had never switched.

    • I had the same experience. Google Fi used to be great, even though a bit more expensive on roaming data than a local SIM card. Well worth the cost. Some Google employees must have created this service with digital nomads in mind (maybe themselves). No more. Google Fi now cuts off your international data, claiming a violation of TOS. That makes the service useless. Avoid!

      • I’m looking to travel and find a phone service. I was looking at Google Fi but now have different thoughts. What are you using instead? Thank you in advance!

  • I switched to Google Fi before traveling to Spain last October (2021). I have an iPhone 11 and Google was on the eSim. When I got there, nothing worked. Text support was good, but it took several attempts to finally figure out what was wrong—and I can’t exactly what the fix was, but I do remember that it was NOT documented in their published steps. I ended up getting a local SIM. The two services never played well together and I had to reboot the Phone any time I switched carriers. (But that’s difficult to know who to blame between Apple, Google, or Vodafone.

    One thing the author failed to mention. After a period of time (2 or 3 months) out of US, Google will warn you that the terms of service have been violated. A little longer and your service will be cut. I read about this on Google’s forum and then verified with Google.

  • Google Fi recently sent my wife this

    Hello traveler!

    It looks like you’ve been using Fi abroad for over 6 months, but Fi’s terms of service require you to use our service primarily from a US address. This means we’ll need to suspend your international data roaming capabilities within 30 days, unless you start using Fi in the US again.

    If you’re active-duty military, please contact Google Fi support as soon as possible for an exception (you may be asked to provide your 10-digit DoD ID number).

    Your phone number is safe on Fi until you cancel service or move it to another provider. If you plan to remain abroad for a long time, you’re free to continue paying for Fi service—you’ll be able to use it for texting and receiving calls, but not for data. You can also choose to move your number to a more local provider or to Google Voice.

    Thanks again for choosing Google Fi.

  • I’m another Google Fi customer who has lost international data roaming due to changes in the TOS. I had been using the data roaming for years and Fi seemed like the ideal service for a traveler like me who is out of the country for months at a time . Then they suddenly sent me an email stating that “you appear to be using data primarily outside the United States” then proceeded to shut down my data roaming. It’s nonsense about my data useage. The vast majority of it is in the United States and their 3rd party who determined my status is dead wrong . But Google won’t listen and now I’ve had to purchase an esim for data here in my temporarily adopted country. When I return to the States in April I’ll see if my data is turned back on but I’ll also be looking for a different plan, because Google Fi has no business touting their service as being great for travelers. That’s become a big lie.

    • I’m another customer who lost international service. Called customer service and I was told to get a sim card in the country I was working in. So when I return to the U.S. I got T-Mobile.
      Best advice I got Google FI

  • Strike 1. Data services suspended due tonusing it out ofnthe US
    Strike 2. Wifi calling is not available on iphones
    Strike 3. $168 bill due to $.20 a minute charge for incoming and outgoing calls

    What are the alternatives?

  • I am mostly in the US work up in northwest Alaska, does it work there?
    I was looking for something to use when traveling, ie this year Germany, Austria and Croatia at a minimum… for a month at a time… can I use it for travel only? It looks like I can, it would only be for a month or so at a time like I mentioned, if it works in Alaska I would love to use it up there as well.
    Thanks,
    Kim

  • You really should update this blog post, because a lot of people won’t read the comments. I know I didn’t. I set off on an extended cruise in June. And not even a month after I switched to Google’s unlimited international plan, I got notified that they were shutting off my international data for using it too much internationally. I asked them what I was going to be charged for the month going forward and they replied that my plan cost wouldn’t change despite them not providing the service. If I didn’t wanna pay for the service that I wasn’t getting, I needed to go in and change my plan manually. They advised that I could change to the $20 a month plan where I still wouldn’t be able to use any data internationally and I could pay for the privilege of making every single call. I declined that marvelous advice and paused my service until I figure out what the best alternative is and then I will cancel it. I was going to just cancel it but in case I have a problem and I absolutely have to make a phone call, at least I have the SIM in the phone and I can reactivate it in seconds. Not enjoying wasting my time in port trying to find a better option. I had been considering changing my main service from my AT&T plan where I’m paying for three additional hotspot lines. Google Fi would’ve saved me a decent amount of money with their free data only sims, but I can’t trust them not to arbitrarily shut those down too. And honestly, once I’m back in the US, I might look at Tmobile for my traveling needs. Everybody else on the ship seems to be doing just fine with them.

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